I reckon getting the right rucksack is more difficult than the right footwear. At least with footwear you can do some trial walks where it becomes obvious quite quickly whether there are any problems. With packs, I think you need a good two-day walk to assess whether there are any issues.
I approached my recent trip with a modicum of apprehension as to whether the Ultrahike would live up to my expectations. It certainly felt good when I did a test load, but the real proof would come from my three-day trip in the Lakes last week.
I’m pleased to say that overall, then Ultrahike did well. It’s not perfect, but it is very good. The most important aspect of any pack is whether it carries well; other considerations are secondary. If it’s uncomfortable, everything else counts for nothing.
The Ultrahike has a generally comfortable and stable carry. Most of the weight is effectively transferred to the well designed hip belt. The hip belt is a great design. The split means that the top of the belt goes over the crest of your hip, while the bottom finger goes below. Unlike conventional hip belts this means there is no pressure on the point of the hip. It also helps ventilation and the hip belt was significantly less sweaty than some other designs. I’m a 34″ waist and the belt was near the end stops, so I don’t think it would fit waists smaller than 33″.
I addition to the main fastening buckle, there are two further buckles on each side that alter the tilt of the belt slightly. The semi-rigid plastic strips on each finger mean that the belt can effectively carry the entire weight of the pack quite easily. I was concerned that it might make the pack quite rigid, but, in fact, it was reasonably flexible. The only slight drawback was that the lower finger of the belt led to some slight tenderness where it rested on my buttock muscle. This eased on the third day as the plastic became more malleable and I suspect this is a pack that will improve over time. If I was redesigning it, I would make the padding a bit thicker here.
Although the shoulder straps are quite firm, they are well contoured and were very comfortable and reasonably well padded. The sternum strap was easy to adjust, although it was close to fully extended, even though I’m a 40″ chest. It’s a shame that there are no webbing ladders on the shoulder straps as it is difficult to add shock loops for a bottle. Although I started with a bottle attached to the shoulder straps, I changed to storing it in the side pocket.
The side pockets are very good. One side was big enough to hold my Scarp1 tent and peg bag. In the other pocket I had a water bottle, a Platypus type bottle (not always full), tripod and a hat or cap. The pockets are well positioned, so it is easy to access and replace a water bottle without dislocating your shoulder.
The lid pocket (which has a water-resistant zip) was big enough to hold a waterproof jacket and over-trousers plus a dry bag with valuables. It’s a shame that there isn’t a separate pocket under the lid to keep valuables safe.
The main sack has a hydration sleeve, but no other pockets or compartments. It was a joy to have a relatively capacious sack, which swallowed my gear easily. Unlike the Mariposa or Ohm, I didn’t have to compress my sleeping bag and clothes too much. I could easily have fitted in some more gear if it had been necessary. The drawcord closure could be a bit wider.
Down each side is a draw string compression system. While I can see the logic for these systems, I think two cinch straps is a better system. The cords can catch on items packed into the side pockets. A webbing strap would also be more useful for securing long items such as a tent. I added a shock cord with a cord lock to secure my Scarp. This is a bit fiddly as the loops for the compression cord are quite small.
I also added some shock cord across the front of the pack to secure my walking poles. Theoretically the points of the walking pole can be placed through the ice axe loops (there’s a short run of elastic to secure the tips), but I felt my system was more secure and elegant. Again, the loops for the shock cord are quite small. Supplied with the pack is some shock cord on the top of the lid pocket. I found this useful to stash my jacket when I wasn’t using it.
I had some concerns that the back system might be quite sweaty as there is no spacer mesh. However, I found the reverse to be true. It was one of the least sweaty back systems I’ve used. It’s certainly a lot less sweaty than the Ohm and Mariposa. Although the foam pad is quite flexible, the “n” shaped aluminium frame means that the contents of the pack don’t dig into your back and it doesn’t require the careful packing that the Ohm, or to a lesser extent my Aether 60 requires.
Overall, I really like this pack. It will take another couple of trips for me to be sure, but I think it has the right compromises of being reasonably light weight (1150g), yet having a good back system that will easily carry heavier loads if necessary. With consumables and water, I was carrying about 13.5kg (base weight was just below 10kg). Hopefully the hip belt will soften a bit more. Even so I found the pack very comfortable. I don’t know how water-proof it is, but I put all my vulnerable gear in dry sacks. At least the pack shouldn’t absorb water as is the tendency of some other packs like the Exos.